Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel
What better sign that Strasbourg is getting back to normal than Members hurling insults at each other, amidst accusations of betrayal and voting controversy. The ETS vote had it all. Members huddled together in the aisles plotting their strategy. The look on poor Peter Liese’s face as he saw the Socialist leader’s thumb point down in true gladiatorial style, indicating the game was up on his report. The tit-for-tat blame game as to which side had most depended on the votes of the far-right, only for Assita Kanko from the ECR to argue they were not far-right and had names too. It was the theatre that has been missing for so long and while Members may moan that lengthy voting sessions are eating into their Strasbourg lunches, it demonstrates the real value of voting in person rather than remotely.
The ETS vote also shines a light on the shifting majorities between plenary and committees, and in particular the more progressive-leaning Environment Committee. The Socialists won round 1 in ENVI, while the EPP won round 2 in plenary. Both know that to have any influence over Council they need to find some common ground and have been given two weeks to sort out their differences. They also know that the real winners of a Parliament own-goal if they were to fail to reach agreement would be the far-right who tabled a wrecking amendment rejecting every Climate report on the agenda. This failed, as did the EPP amendment to each report calling for a regulatory moratorium to ease the burden on business facing higher prices and the impact of the war.
The week started with two early wins for the Parliament. Increasing the presence of women on boards has been ten years in the making but agreement was finally reached on 40% of non-executive director posts or 33% of all director posts. Former Commissioner Viviane Reding was present to share in the long overdue celebrations. A deal was also reached with Council on a common charger for all mobile phones, tablets and cameras, heralding a tangible benefit to consumers and a great illustration, like roaming fees, of where the EU can really make a practical difference. Voters are probably slightly less interested in two other initiatives this week, one to give the Parliament the right to initiate legislation and another to allow this to happen by activating the process to revise the Treaties.
These institutional changes will have to happen without the architect of many of Parliament’s previous power grabs, its Secretary General Klaus Welle, who will stand down in January. It’s unusual for a Parliament official to attract such attention, but Welle, like Martin Selmayr in the Commission, became bigger than the post. His vision was to make the Parliament more like the US Congress and he built the Members ’Research Service almost from scratch. He was a great advocate of exploiting the powers of the Lisbon treaty to the full and the hearings of Commissioner candidates and the Spitzenkandidat process to elect the Commission president ,owe much to his influence. He is likely to be replaced by his current deputy, Markus Winkler, a less controversial figure from the Socialist ranks.
Following President Metsola’s visit to the Ukrainian parliament, it was the turn of the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada to personally address MEPs and thank them for their support, not least in its efforts to be granted EU candidate status. Rusan Stefanchuk was kitted out in the army fatigues that we’ve become accustomed to seeing President Zelansky wear, a visual reminder of the brutal war being fought.